As some of you may have heard, Jesica (music friend from BSU and teacher here too) and I ran into quite the adventure two weeks ago while traveling in Xi’an, China. It was a rather last minute weekend trip, though we “knew” we would be going for quite some time. We left on a Friday at noon and returned at noon on a Monday (okay, so it was just a wee bit longer than a weekend).
It was quite a crazy trip plan and itinerary. Ticket booking was a nightmare, but we were grateful for the help of our wonderful Chinese co-worker, Season, for booking assistance. Without her, it wouldn’t have happened at all!
Anyways, we decided to take our trip the weekend preluding English summer camp. Therefore, we set up camp in the morning on Friday and taxi-ed our way to the train station for our 20+ hour ride to Xi’an. Yes, 20+ hours on a train WITHOUT a bed!! Yah, we booked last minute.
Of course, there are bonuses to being young and stupid. As we arrived at the train station, both Jesica and I were absolutely giddy with excitement at the thought of being stuck sitting inside a moving box on a HARD seat for almost an ENTIRE day! Honestly, dogs are smarter. They’ll usually put up a little fight before entering a little dark box with tiny windows/breath holes. We superior humans PAID to be put on a moving box. Uh. …Wow.
So, there we were all happy and boarding our little OH SO STUPID SLOW train.
One of the reasons I was particularly excited for our train trip was because this is the way that many Chinese college students and normal people will travel to visit once place or the next. Some provinces are richer and have better, faster trains, others, like the Shaanxi province aren’t as rich (so I’m told) and have slower trains….much, much slower. But, if train-ing is doable for them, then it would work for us, too! By George!
Well, “real China” we wanted and “real China” we got! I think most times foreigners are funneled onto fancy tours and pampered more or less wherever they go. This was none of the sort. Jesica and I boarded our train and found our seats right away. We had booked 2 hard seats on the train which we thought were together. They were not. Luckily a few college boys were in the same boat, and a little pantomime communication, we quickly found a way to sit where we wanted. Anyways, the seats were arranged in groups of six on one side and fours on the other. Each row of three or two would face the chairs across from it. As we settled into our seats, our knees nearly knocked against those of the people who were across from us. Jesica and I found getting close and personal with our neighbors to be rather easy under the circumstances :). haha.
This brings us to our entertainment for the entirety of our train traveling, i.e. our neighbors! To name a few, we had…
- Ka-noodlers: Touchy couples across from us as well as those scattered throughout the train. Chinese couples tend to show there affection here in more of a cute-sy, kiddish way…but also very touchy, feel-y, needy way (?) for lack of a better way to describe. I’m raised in a more Scandinavian corner of the world, i.e. “No touchy!” My reaction then? AHHHH!!
- Serious students: A girl studying or something kitty corner to us. She had a nice little radio of sorts to which she conversed with loudly throughout her time on the train with us….Huh.
- “Best friend”: A wonderful, wonderful Chinese man who sat next to me for most of the trip. I was blessed beyond measure for him sitting there! He just sat there, minded his own business, and wasn’t obnoxious (YES!). Pink-shirt-business-man, you were my best friend, at least for a few hours ;)!
After awhile, initial neighbors left and on came new ones, and then more new ones, etc. Some of these really stood out.
- (Quizzicals)…? : People who I’m pretty sure weren’t exactly…well, …idk. You know when you get really strange vibes from folks? yah. Lots of those.
Note: On slow trains (like the one we were on), cars might get filled beyond capacity–a lot beyond capacity at times. When hard/soft sleepers AND chairs get sold out, then trains may sell “standing” tickets. These are the same price as regular tickets, but they have to stand the WHOLE time. When one person gets up for a bathroom break or there is a vacant seat, these “standers” may snatch up another’s seat. Many of the “strange-vibers” were these. Hold on to your ticket! Yikes!
- Snappers: Sitting down in one position for any length of time can be very, very hard. As it turns out, standing is a great alternative :D (who knew, right?)! Except, that is, when you don’t have places to put walk around. Jesica and I would simply just stand up right in front of our seat for awhile at times. Not exactly weird, but it felt a little awkward. This provided those around us in surrounding seat groups to pull out their phones and cameras and start taking photos of, well, us.
Note: This was also REALLY awkward. Getting asked to take pictures with students or even other people around China just because you’re white has been weird to get used to, but do-able. On the train, however, it really started to bother me. It felt like going to the zoo, but being the animal. What do you do in a position like that? You can’t run, walk, or hide. You’re stuck on next to your seat. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing, but it really was obnoxious.
- Families: I was AMAZED that parents had their children on the train for this length of time. Most of them were really well behaved. However, there was an interesting group in the seat grouping behind Jesica and my seat. We are still totally baffled by the behavior we witnessed and just kept laughing sporadically at different points because of the sheer oddity of the situation.
There were 3 little boys with their mom, grandma, and dad. Ages were perhaps 10, 8, and 3? “10” and “8” were pretty funny/ cute kids and were entertaining. “3” was a nice little boy, I’m sure, but he was PANT-LESS! YES! PANT-LESS. And not only this, but he was also short a pair of underwear. Yup, you got it right. NO UNDERWEAR! ON THE TRAIN!!! WHAT?!
Yes, this precious little baby bottom brushed many seats and also was plopped down on the headrest next to my own. (I tried not to let the question of overall sanitation disturb my personal sanity!). This little boy ran all over the place and was at one point on the seat next to my own. The dad could tell his son was a bit antsy, so he started bouncing him on the seat–up DOWN up DOWN up DOWN. I think I know what earthquake tremors feel like!
To top it off, boy “8” started chomping on the bare-bottomed-baby-brother’s buttocks.
…? ….? ….?
Bedtime was a little challenging come nightfall due to the obvious fact of the lack of sleeping space. We were inspired by a tiny little Asian woman who seemed to have mastered the trick by turning herself into a little ball-knees to nose-while facing the back of her chair. Wow. Amazing. Another reason to stand up and applaud the entirety of the Asian women population. Not only can like EVERY SINGLE woman in China wear heels (none of the “kitten” business either. We’re talking the 3-inch. to sky-high stilettos here!), but they can also wear them while walking on ANY surface (pavement, gravel, water, un-even you-name-it surfaces), riding on scooters, bikes, or motorcycles, AND run. WHAT?!
Now they can turn themselves into portable human sleeping balls on tiny train seats. What gives, man?
- Another interesting character was a rather rotund Asian man who came on to the plane shirtless just as nightfall was approaching. Yah, he sat right across from me. He was also not familiar with personal space. His feet ended up on the seat right next to my knees. The courtesy of having shoes or socks was also avoided. I dosed off that night with images of this man’s the very long, dirty nails and dirty feet stuck in my head. The next morning, we discovered that he liked to listen to music, folk style. As I read in a travel guide, this music is very “challenging” to the Western ear. haha.
Our entertainment on the train came to a conclusion after 22 and 1/2 hours! The encore was standing up at the end and realizing that our feet were bloated. AH! I didn’t even know that traveling could cause one to retain water. Talk about being shocked! I was just really grateful that Jesica was there to tell me that water retention isn’t a permanent thing and will go away with time :). Yay!
We got into Xi’an a little before noon and were very grateful to be able to stretch our legs again. We met up with Min, a cousin of our co-worker Lynn, who happens to go to university there. After lunch and getting acquainted, we hopped on a bus to see the Terracotta Warriors right away! It was an hour long trip which Jesica and I quickly fell asleep over. This was ironic considering how long we had just slept on the train!
All this to say that when we did finally arrive at the Warriors, we were officially “wow-ed” and our traveling was worth it. We visited the museum right away and then journeyed to each of the 3 pits where the warriors are “stationed” ;). Pit #1 was by far the most cool. It is really, really big and the warriors are best preserved there.
Additionally, it was a tourist trap. This is usually a bad thing, but here it came across as a cool experience just because of the international diversity. People from all of the world snapping photos, vlogging and saying “Hi” in their own languages, etc. It was neat to see people from all over the world gathered here to gawk! ;)
After a few hours, Jesica and I were wiped. Min, however, was still energetic and was eager to go look at the trees around the buildings where the warriors were. So, she galavanted after those while Jesica and I collapsed in a little cafe near the warrior pits. While we cooled off (it was REALLY REALLY hot outside) and drank something semi-cold, we enjoyed people watching and trying to pin-point where those around us were from. There was a group of 4 girls nearby which particularly intrigued us. We were close enough to know they weren’t from the States or Canada, but far enough so we couldn’t tell whether Australia or Europe. Bummer.
Anyways, we boarded our bus again and headed back to the train station to get a taxi to our hostel. Unfortunately, the taxis and took-tooks are notoriously over priced (15-40RMB+). After saying our goodbyes to Min, we hired a took-took to take us to our hostel.
He overcharged us AND dropped us off at the wrong place. We had to wander around and ask for directions a few times before we found where we needed to go.
The funny thing was our hostel was on a ghetto alley, or at least it looked that way since night was falling. However, when we did finally locate it, it was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to us. Season had been to Xi’an before and highly recommended a particular hostel to us. What she didn’t tell us was that it was somewhere between the 4th-10th best hostel in the world! WHOA!! WAY cool. Here’s some photos from the next day:
Anyways, so this amazing hostel offered tours to sign up for for the surrounding attractions, English directions and pricing for just about everything, and had staff who spoke English. YES! From this, we were able to gauge what we wanted to do for Sunday and also book a taxi for our early departure on Monday morning.
Jesica and I were really, really wiped after our train travels and sight-seeing and were ready to fall into bed. The one issue was getting there. haha. Thankfully our amazing hostel had an elevator! YAY! (Little things are appreciated when you’re tired). Now, this was the part where I was a little nervous. It was my first hostel experience and we had had to book a room that housed 6 due to our late booking and pricing (though hostels are known for being cheap). Obviously, Jesica and I only made up 2 of the 6-some, some I was a little nervous about who our roomies were going to be–? ? Yikes!
As we were settling in, Jesica said in passing, wouldn’t it be funny if it were those 4 girls from Australia/Europe that we saw at the Warriors today? hahaha?
Yup, it was.
We noticed in the room that we had a group of all girls and, when they got in later that night, we were delightfully surprised to meet our 4 new British friends who were taking a gap year and traveling, literally, around the entire globe. Really cool!
After dinner, Jesica and I slept and stayed that way forever.
We woke up the next morning with plans of visiting different attractions and then going to a dinner/dance theater in the evening.
Unfortunately, on the way to the Bell Tower, we turned the wrong way, asked for directions, and Jesica got her wallet stolen….complete with U.S. credit cards, her Chinese bank card, S.S. card, over 1000 RMB, and train/plane tickets for returning home.
This was a problem.
It took most of the morning and into the early afternoon to fix, thanks to having to go get tickets from the train station (thank you long lines in China!).
The good news is that everything worked out. George and Season, our co-workers here at CIBT, were huge, huge, huge helps and knew just what to do. Jesica got a hold of her parents and I got a hold of Jesica and in the end everything was figured out (long story short).
Despite the adventurous wrinkle in our journey, we decided to still enjoy all of Xi’an that we could. We came back to the hostel, enjoyed the rooftop garden and then grabbed dinner with out new British girl friends. After Jesica and I left for the dinner (that we didn’t eat)/dance theatre which was a recreation of the dance from the Tang dynasty. SO cool.
To finish out our night in Xi’an, Jesica and I came back and hung out a little more with our new friends.
We really enjoyed eating our little bites of brownies which we bought from the hostel, learning the latest British slang, and coloring flags for the walls.
We went to bed late after some serious pillow talking and rose early the next morning when it wasn’t bright–4:30am. It was really hard to leave Xi’an even in our groggy state. So many adventures, experiences, and new friends! We couldn’t stay though. We caught our taxi, made our 8am flight to Qingdao, taxi-ed 45min. to the train station where we traveled an hour back to Weifang. We made it just in time to the school–15min. before teaching our first class of English summer camp! Talk about amazing timing. PTL!.